p] (1971)
The Devil's Mirror


Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 11/13/2006
Summary: Bloody Hell!

The Jiuxian Witch and her Bloody Ghouls Clan (somehow you just know that these aren’t the good guys) are planning domination of the Martial Arts world. Standing in their way are two clans who posses a magic mirror each. The two clans enjoy friendly relations, but when one mirror is stolen and the blame seems to rest with the other Clan, suspicions and tempers run high. It’s left to the young renegades from each Clan to find the true culprit or culprits, and to ease the tensions of their families. Not to mention ridding the world of the evil Jiuxian Witch.

I must admit to being totally ignorant of Suen Chung’s work until I stumbled across this little nugget purely by accident. THE DEVIL’S MIRROR is a Wuxia movie made in 1972 – when the world was going Bruce Lee mad and this sort of thing was becoming very unpopular indeed.

Nevertheless, this film has much to recommend to fans of the genre, although the plot is sometimes mad to the point of stupidity. There’s a twist near the end that left me breathless with incredulity – for a moment things become almost like a parody (I’m not going to give a spoiler, but it concerns Chief Bai’s leg – a real “WTF?!” moment). Furthermore, the lead characters are almost entirely charisma-free, and their plight is sometimes hard to care about.

What it does have (apart from a three-eyed super-slut witch) is some jaw-dropping action for the day and some great production values. The sets (both outdoor and indoor) are fantastic and lend a great deal of atmosphere to proceedings, but suffer from over familiarity with other Shaw Brothers films (the bridge from THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN and THE WATER MARGIN features heavily).

It’s also extremely violent. I don’t remember ever seeing a Hong Kong film quite so bloody – even the climax to HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL isn’t this blood-drenched. I suppose it just goes to show that Chang Cheh didn’t have the monopoly on fake blood – in this one, even the sets are left dripping with it by the end. I would gauge my tolerance to screen violence as ‘quite high’, but even I cringed at one point where an assassination attempt with a blowpipe backfires and the would-be murderer has the whole thing rammed straight through his mouth – nasty! Seriously though, it IS a bit much from time to time if you’re not used to that kind of thing.

But this film has to be seen if only for the scene where the reluctant raiders (who are doomed to a fate worse than death due to being force-fed Corpse Worm Pills by the witch) storm the Phoenix Tower to take one of the mirrors. It’s simply stunning and I doubt that even today, in our CGI world, it could have been done more dramatically. The fight itself is entirely one-sided, but that’s the point – rarely has a complete massacre been so entertainingly shot.

It’s pretty hard for me not to compare this film to the films of Chang Cheh and King Hu and find it lacking in some respects, but the truth of the matter is that it’s got some superb moments in it. Just don’t expect it to make a lot of sense.

I’d give it a 7½.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 10/15/2006
Summary: Nice bit of swordplay

Not sure why Celestial Pictures decided to save the bulk of Sun Chung's martial arts output for so late in the remastering/release schedule, since it turns out he was one of the more interesting and important directors in the field. In particular, it seems like it would have made sense to release his debut film as director, a charmingly violent swordplay film with some very progressive action choreography, rather sooner. Having seen so many of these things over the past 4 years it's hard to fully put them in context now, but I think it's fair to say that the ferocity and bloodiness of the action was quite notable, as was the sometimes impressive use of wirework and the macabre sets.

The plot is fairly straightforward - Jiuxuan witch seeks a pair of mirrors that will give her dominance over the martial world, and doesn't particularly care who her Bloody Ghouls Clan has to kill to get them. All the better if she can get a traitor to set two righteous clans against each other though.

Young leads Shu Pei-Pei and Liu Tan are rather drippy, but they have some good support, including a wonderfully villainous (and slutty) performance from Li Chia-Chien as the witch. The colourful set design is reminiscent of some of Chor Yuen's later wu xia, if not as opulent as his better ones. Lighting and camerawork are generally slick, but it is the fierce action that makes the film most memorable - despite an over-reliance on extras squirting blood bags over themselves for the claret.

7.5/10

Reviewer Score: 7